FAVORITE JEFFERSON QUOTES REPUBLICAN GOVERNMENT =The Constitution= "Aware of the tendency of power to degenerate into abuse, the worthies of our country have secured its independence by the establishment of a Constitution and form of government for our nation, calculated to prevent as well as to correct abuse." --Thomas Jefferson to Washington Tammany Society, 1809. "[The purpose of a written constitution is] to bind up the several branches of government by certain laws, which, when they transgress, their acts shall become nullities; to render unnecessary an appeal to the people, or in other words a rebellion, on every infraction of their rights, on the peril that their acquiescence shall be construed into an intention to surrender those rights." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia, 1782. Q.XIII "I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That "all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people." [10th Amendment] To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition." --Thomas Jefferson: National Bank Opinion, 1791. "The foundation on which all [our State constitutions] are built is the natural equality of man, the denial of every pre-eminence but that annexed to legal office and particularly the denial of a pre-eminence by birth." --Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 1784. "The principles of our Constitution are wisely opposed to all perpetuations of power, and to every practice which may lead to hereditary establishments." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Address, 1809. "Though written constitutions may be violated in moments of passion or delusion, yet they furnish a text to which those who are watchful may again rally and recall the people. They fix, too, for the people the principles of their political creed." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Priestley, 1802. "Whenever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force." --Thomas Jefferson: Kentucky Resolutions, 1798. "It [is] inconsistent with the principles of civil liberty, and contrary to the natural rights of the other members of the society, that any body of men therein should have authority to enlarge their own powers... without restraint." --Thomas Jefferson: Virginia Allowance Bill, 1778. "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia, 1782. "Laws provide against injury from others, but not from ourselves." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Religion, 1776? "In questions of power...let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." --Thomas Jefferson: Kentucky Resolutions, 1798. "Confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism. Free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence." --Thomas Jefferson: Draft, Kentucky Resolutions, 1798. "It is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited constitutions, to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power. Our Constitution has accordingly fixed the limits to which, and no further, our confidence may go." --Thomas Jefferson: Draft, Kentucky Resolutions, 1798. "Is confidence or discretion, or is STRICT LIMIT, the principle of our Constitution?" --Thomas Jefferson to Jedidiah Morse, 1822. "Leave no authority existing not responsible to the people." --Thomas Jefferson to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1816. "The elective franchise, if guarded as the ark of our safety, will peaceably dissipate all combinations to subvert a Constitution, dictated by the wisdom, and resting on the will of the people." --Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Waring, 1801. "Unless the mass retains sufficient control over those entrusted with the powers of their government, these will be perverted to their own oppression, and to the perpetuation of wealth and power in the individuals and their families selected for the trust. Whether our Constitution has hit on the exact degree of control necessary, is yet under experiment." --Thomas Jefferson to M. van der Kemp, 1812. "I disapproved from the first moment... the want of a bill of rights [in the new Constitution] to guard liberty against the legislative as well as the executive branches of the government." --Thomas Jefferson to Francis Hopkinson, 1789. "A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular; and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inferences." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1787. "A bill of rights [will] guard liberty against the legislative as well as the executive branches of the government." --Thomas Jefferson to Francis Hopkinson, 1789. "In the arguments in favor of a declaration of rights, one which has great weight with me [is] the legal check which it puts into the hands of the judiciary." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1789. "By a declaration of rights, I mean one which shall stipulate freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of commerce against monopolies, trial by juries in all cases, no suspensions of the habeas corpus, no standing armies. These are fetters against doing evil which no honest government should decline." --Thomas Jefferson to Alexander Donald, 1788. "I sincerely wish we could see our government so secured as to depend less on the character of the person in whose hands it is trusted. Bad men will sometimes get in and with such an immense patronage may make great progress in corrupting the public mind and principles. This is a subject with which wisdom and patriotism should be occupied." --Thomas Jefferson to Moses Robinson, 1801. =Amendments to the Constitution= "Whatever be the Constitution, great care must be taken to provide a mode of amendment when experience or change of circumstances shall have manifested that any part of it is unadapted to the good of the nation." --Thomas Jefferson to A. Coray, 1823. "Nothing is more likely than that [the] enumeration of powers is defective. This is the ordinary case of all human works. Let us then go on perfecting it by adding by way of amendment to the Constitution those powers which time and trial show are still wanting." --Thomas Jefferson to Wilson Nicholas, 1803. "We have always a right to correct ancient errors, and to establish what is more conformable to reason and convenience." -- Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1801. "I willingly acquiesce in the institutions of my country, perfect or imperfect; and think it a duty to leave their modifications to those who are to live under them, and are to participate of the good or evil they may produce. The present generation has the same right of self-government which the past one has exercised for itself." --Thomas Jefferson to John Hampden Pleasants, 1824. "The precept is wise which directs us to try all things, and hold fast that which is good." --Thomas Jefferson to William Drayton, 1788. "Let us go on perfecting the Constitution by adding, by way of amendment, those forms which time and trial show are still wanting." --Thomas Jefferson to Wilson Nicholas, 1803. "The real friends of the Constitution in its federal form, if they wish it to be immortal, should be attentive, by amendments, to make it keep pace with the advance of the age in science and experience. Instead of this, the European governments have resisted reformation, until the people, seeing no other resource, undertake it themselves by force, their only weapon, and work it out through blood, desolation and long-continued anarchy." --Thomas Jefferson to Robert J. Garnett, 1824. "Our children will be as wise as we are and will establish in the fulness of time those things not yet ripe for establishment." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1810. "Can one generation bind another and all others in succession forever? I think not. The Creator has made the earth for the living, not for the dead. Rights and powers can only belong to persons, not to things, not to mere matter unendowed with will." --Thomas Jefferson to John Cartwright, 1824. "I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions, I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know, also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times." --Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. "We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." --Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. "It is more honorable to repair a wrong than to persist in it." --Thomas Jefferson: Address to Cherokee Nation, 1806. "Happily for us, that when we find our constitutions defective and insufficient to secure the happiness of our people, we can assemble with all the coolness of philosophers, and set them to rights, while every other nation on earth must have recourse to arms to amend or to restore their constitutions." --Thomas Jefferson to C. W. F. Dumas, 1787. =Interpretation= "Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction." --Thomas Jefferson to Wilson Nicholas, 1803. "The true key for the construction of everything doubtful in a law, is the intention of the law givers. This is most safely gathered from the words, but may be sought also in extraneous circumstances, provided they do not contradict the express words of the law." --Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, 1808. "On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed." --Thomas Jefferson to William Johnson, 1823 "I had rather ask an enlargement of power from the nation, where it is found necessary, than to assume it by a construction which would make our powers boundless." --Thomas Jefferson to Wilson Nicholas, 1803. =Separation of Powers: Federal and State= "I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That "all powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people." [X Amendment] To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specifically drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition." --Thomas Jefferson: National Bank Opinion, 1791. "The true barriers of our liberty are our State governments; and the wisest conservative power ever contrived by man, is that of which our Revolution and present government found us possessed." --Thomas Jefferson to A. L. C. Destutt de Tracy, 1811. "I have always thought that where the line of demarcation between the powers of the General and the State governments was doubtfully or indistinctly drawn, it would be prudent and praiseworthy in both parties, never to approach it but under the most urgent necessity." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, 1814. "The States should be left to do whatever acts they can do as well as the General Government." --Thomas Jefferson to John Harvie, 1790. "The way to have good and safe government, is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the function he is competent to. Let the National Government be entrusted with the defense of the nation and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man's farm by himself; by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, 1816. "An elective despotism was not the government we fought for, but one which should not only be founded on true free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among general bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits without being effectually checked and restrained by the others." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia, 1782. "What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body, no matter whether of the autocrats of Russia or France, or of the aristocrats of a Venetian Senate." --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, 1816. "When all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another, and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated." --Thomas Jefferson to Charles Hammond, 1821. "The concentrating [all the powers of government, legislative, executive and judiciary] in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government. It will be no alleviation that these powers will be exercised by a plurality of hands, and not by a single one." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia, 1782. "One precedent in favor of power is stronger than an hundred against it." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia, 1782. "Where powers are assumed which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy." --Thomas Jefferson: Kentucky Resolutions, 1798. "[If] it [were] assumed that the general government has a right to exercise all powers which may be for the 'general welfare,' that [would include] all the legitimate powers of government, since no government has a legitimate right to do what is not for the welfare of the governed." --Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 1792. "I do verily believe that..a single, consolidated government would become the most corrupt government on the earth." --Thomas Jefferson to Gideon Granger, 1800. "It is a happy circumstance in human affairs that evils which are not cured in one way will cure themselves in some other." --Thomas Jefferson to John Sinclair, 1791. "On every unauthoritative exercise of power by the legislature must the people rise in rebellion or their silence be construed into a surrender of that power to them? If so, how many rebellions should we have had already?" --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia, 1782. "The peculiar happiness of our blessed system is that in differences of opinion between these different sets of servants, the appeal is to neither, but to their employers peaceably assembled by their representatives in convention. This is more rational than the jus fortioris, or the canon's mouth, the ultima et sola ratio regum." --Thomas Jefferson to Spencer Roane, 1821. =Separation of Powers in the Federal Branches= "If the three powers maintain their mutual independence on each other our Government may last long, but not so if either can assume the authorities of the other." --Thomas Jefferson to William Charles Jarvis, 1820. "The interference of the Executive can rarely be proper where that of the Judiciary is so." --Thomas Jefferson to George Hammond, 1793. "Mankind soon learn to make interested uses of every right and power which they possess or may assume. The public money and public liberty, intended to have been deposited with three branches of magistracy but found inadvertently to be in the hands of one only, will soon be discovered to be sources of wealth and dominion to those who hold them; distinguished, too, by this tempting circumstance: that they are the instrument as well as the object of acquisition. With money we will get men, said Caesar, and with men we will get money." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia, 1782. "It is the old practice of despots to use a part of the people to keep the rest in order; and those who have once got an ascendency and possessed themselves of all the resources of the nation, their revenues and offices, have immense means for retaining their advantages." --Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 1798. =Elective Government= "Elective government is...the best permanent corrective of the errors or abuses of those entrusted with power." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Address, 1801. "The Legislative and Executive branches may sometimes err, but elections and dependence will bring them to rights." --Thomas Jefferson to Archibald Thweat, 1821. "To insure the safety of the public liberty, its depository should be subject to be changed with the greatest ease possible, and without suspending or disturbing for a moment the movements of the machine of government." --Thomas Jefferson to A. L. C. Destutt de Tracy, 1811. "If our fellow citizens... will sacrifice favoritism towards men for the preservation of principle, we may hope that no divisions will again endanger a degeneracy in our government. --Thomas Jefferson to Richard M. Johnson, 1808. "The frequent recurrence of this chastening operation [of elections] can alone restrain the propensity of governments to enlarge expense beyond income." --Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, 1820. "[It is] by their votes the people exercise their sovereignty." --Thomas Jefferson: written note in Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws. "Experience [has] shown that, even under the best forms [of government], those entrusted with power have, in time and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny." --Thomas Jefferson: Diffusion of Knowledge Bill, 1779. "Should things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to rights by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights." --Thomas Jefferson to Wilson Nicholas, 1806. "The elective franchise, if guarded as the ark of our safety, will peaceably dissipate all combinations to subvert a Constitution, dictated by the wisdom, and resting on the will of the people." --Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Waring, 1801. "I think the best remedy is exactly that provided by all our constitutions: to leave to the citizens the free election and separation of the aristoi from the pseudo-aristoi, of the wheat from the chaff. In general they will elect the real good and wise. In some instances wealth may corrupt and birth blind them, but not in sufficient degree to endanger the society." --Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1813. "It suffices for us if the moral and physical condition of our own citizens qualifies them to select the able and good for the direction of their government, with a recurrence of elections at such short periods as will enable them to displace an unfaithful servant before the mischief he mediates may be irremediable." --Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1813. "A jealous care of the right of election by the people--a mild and safe corrective of abuses which are lopped by the sword of revolution where peaceable remedies are unprovided--I deem [one of] the essential principles of our Government." --Thomas Jefferson: 1st Inaugural, 1801. "In case of an abuse of the delegated powers, the members of the General Government, being chosen by the people, a change by the people would be the constitutional remedy." --Thomas Jefferson: Kentucky Resolutions, 1798. "I am for responsibilities at short periods, seeing neither reason nor safety in making public functionaries independent of the nation for life, or even for long terms of years." --Thomas Jefferson to James Martin, 1813. "In truth, man is not made to be trusted for life if secured against all liability to account." --Thomas Jefferson to A. Coray, 1823. "I think it is a duty in those entrusted with the administration of their affairs to conform themselves to the decided choice of their constituents." --Thomas Jefferson to John Jay, 1785. "I love to see honest and honorable men at the helm, men who will not bend their politics to their purses nor pursue measures by which they may profit and then profit by their measures." --Thomas Jefferson to Edward Rutledge, 1796. "An honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens... Power is not alluring to pure minds and is not with them the primary principle of contest." --Thomas Jefferson to John Melish, 1813. "Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on [offices] a rottenness begins in his conduct." --Thomas Jefferson to Tench Coxe, 1799. "Men of high learning and abilities are few in every country; and by taking in those who are not so, the able part of the body have their hands tied by the unable." --Thomas Jefferson to Archibald Stewart, 1791. "That there should be public functionaries independent of the nation, whatever may be their demerit, is a solecism in a republic of the first order of absurdity and inconsistency." --Thomas Jefferson to William T. Barry, 1822. "In a free country, every power is dangerous which is not bound up by general rules." --Thomas Jefferson to Philip Mazzei, 1785. "It would be a dangerous delusion were a confidence in the men of our choice to silence our fears for the safety of our rights. Confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism. Free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence." --Thomas Jefferson: Draft, Kentucky Resolutions, 1798. =Legislative Branch= "Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their power: that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties and to take none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him; every man is under the natural duty of contributing to the necessities of the society, and this is all the laws should enforce on him." --Thomas Jefferson to Francis Gilmer, 1816. "The representatives of the people in Congress are alone competent to judge of the general disposition of the people, and to what precise point of reformation they are ready to go." --Thomas Jefferson to Mr. Rutherford, 1792. "A sound spirit of legislation,... banishing all arbitrary and unnecessary restraint on individual action, shall leave us free to do whatever does not violate the equal rights of another." --Thomas Jefferson: Report for the University of Virginia, 1818. "To special legislation we are generally averse lest a principle of favoritism should creep in and pervert that of equal rights. It has, however, been done on some occasions where a special national advantage has been expected to overweigh that of adherence to the general rule." --Thomas Jefferson to George Flower, 1817. "If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send one hundred and fifty lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, and talk by the hour?" --Thomas Jefferson: Autobiography, 1821. "A forty years' experience of popular assemblies has taught me that you must give them time for every step you take. If too hard pushed, they balk, and the machine retrogrades." --Thomas Jefferson to Joel Barlow, 1807. "It is not only vain, but wicked in a legislator to frame laws in opposition to the laws of nature, and to arm them with the terrors of death. This is truly creating crimes in order to punish them." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Crimes Bill, 1779. "History has informed us that bodies of men as well as individuals are susceptible of the spirit of tyranny." --Thomas Jefferson: Rights of British America, 1774. "When the representative body have lost the confidence of their constituents, when they have notoriously made sale of their most valuable rights, when they have assumed to themselves powers which the people never put into their hands, then, indeed, their continuing in office becomes dangerous to the State, and calls for an exercise of the power of dissolution." --Thomas Jefferson: Rights of British America, 1774. "The purpose of establishing different houses of legislation is to introduce the influence of different interests or different principles." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia, 1782. "I consider... the republican as one more willing to trust the legislature [than the Executive] as a broader representation of the people and a safer deposit of power for many reasons." --Thomas Jefferson to John Dickinson, 1801. "A representative government, responsible at short intervals of election... produces the greatest sum of happiness to mankind." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Vermont Legislature, 1807. =Executive Branch= "Responsibility weighs with its heaviest force on a single head." --Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. "To inform the minds of the people, and to follow their will, is the chief duty of those placed at their head." --Thomas Jefferson to C. W. F. Dumas, 1787. "No ground of support for the Executive will ever be so sure as a complete knowledge of their proceedings by the people; and it is only in cases where the public good would be injured, and BECAUSE it would be injured, that proceedings should be secret. In such cases it is the duty of the Executive to sacrifice their personal interest (which would be promoted by publicity) to the public interest." --Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 1793. "On every question the lawyers are about equally divided, and were we to act but in cases where no contrary opinion of a lawyer can be had, we should never act." --Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, 1798. "It is not wisdom alone but public confidence in that wisdom which can support an administration." --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1824. "Let nothing be spared of either reason or passion to preserve the public confidence entire as the only rock of our safety." --Thomas Jefferson to Caesar Rodney, 1810. =Judicial Branch= "The dignity and stability of government in all its branches, the morals of the people and every blessing of society depend so much upon an upright and skillful administration of justice, that the judicial power ought to be distinct from both the legislative and executive and independent upon both, that so it may be a check upon both, as both should be checks upon that." --Thomas Jefferson to George Wythe, 1776. "The great object of my fear is the Federal Judiciary. That body, like gravity, ever acting with noiseless foot and unalarming advance, gaining ground step by step and holding what it gains, is engulfing insidiously the special governments into the jaws of that which feeds them." --Thomas Jefferson to Spencer Roane, 1821. "A judiciary independent of a king or executive alone is a good thing; but independence of the will of the nation is a solecism, at least in a republican government." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Ritchie, 1820. "It is a misnomer to call a government republican in which a branch of the supreme power is independent of the nation." --Thomas Jefferson to John Hampden Pleasants, 1821. Compilation copyrighted 1996 by Eyler Robert Coates, Sr. Permission hereby granted to quote single excerpts separately.
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